The Braille Monitor                                                                                       June 2003

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High Partial Is Still Blind

by Mike Robinson

From the Editor: Mike Robinson is president of the Buffalo Chapter of the NFB of New York. He delivered a speech at the 2001 New York convention which was very well received. We don't often hear from members who have a good deal of usable vision yet still identify strongly with the organized blind movement. Mike and his wife are both what is known as high partials, and they recognize that they share the responsibility to educate the public about the abilities of blind people. Here is the speech Mike gave:

My wife Angie and I have been active members of the Federation for over fourteen years. With our two sons we live in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda on the Niagara River within ten miles of Niagara Falls. We have both had experience managing state-sponsored concessions in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse as well as being involved in other pursuits.

A much respected leader of the NFB of New York, Peter Roydal, used to comment about blindness that "It is harder for most people to understand someone with partial sight than it is for them to understand someone with no sight."

I'll be speaking to you today about my situation as a high partial and the challenges I face in the middle–-between sighted and totally blind. Angie too is a high partial, so we are fortunate to have each other as well as the Federation for support. We believe that it is important for the Federation to strive to enlighten the public and minimize the misunderstandings of the visually handicapped, no matter what the degree of blindness.

My inherited condition is a combination of myopic degeneration and cone dystrophy. Myopic degeneration is a genetically created elongation of the eyeball so that images I see are focused in front of the cornea. The accompanying cone dystrophy is a deterioration of cells that receive light stimuli in the retina, causing nearsightedness and color blindness.

This condition was passed on to my brother, a male cousin, and me from our maternal grandfather. We three have determined that our inconveniences are similar, as are the ways we cope with them. Fortunately my prognosis does not suggest any extensive future deterioration of my sight. For better or worse I'll always be a high partial.

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me was not denying my visual problem. I was never sheltered, and they never expected any less of me than of my sighted sisters.

In many ways my problems are the same as those of anyone who is totally blind. Being unable to obtain a driver's license is a major drawback. As we all know, transportation is a critical concern. Using nonconventional methods to read print and perform some day-to-day tasks and convincing others that my handicap does not deter me from leading a normal, productive life are my obstacles also. But, because I do not display the obvious signs of blindness--relying on a dog or cane--my greatest challenge is with those who don't realize to what extent my vision is impaired.

During the nicer and sometimes not-so-nice Buffalo weather I bicycle wherever I want to go. It is five miles to work every day. My sons and I take bike rides for fun, and most days I have errands to run. We sometimes ride ten to fifteen miles to visit relatives or friends. On average I cycle about twenty miles a day. Luckily our community has many good bike paths. But often I can't avoid traffic. How then do I see well enough to bike but not to drive? It's all in finding the safest routes and the best way to use them. Caution and concentration are crucial. I am proud to say that I have a spotless accident record.

Even though I can get myself around in good weather, I have places to go with my family during inclement weather that prohibits cycling. That's when I face the annoyance of choosing among bus, taxi, and asking for a ride with friends.

Making the most of a motor trip requires careful planning. We're not always at our leisure to stop wherever or whenever we would like. The driver makes some decisions for us, especially how long or short our stay will be. Asking a relative or friend for a ride seems like an imposition, so we try not to ask too often.

Knowing where bus stops are, determining whether the oncoming bus is the one I want, catching a bus that runs at the right time, and dealing with arrogant bus drivers are some of the problems I face regularly. Once I was getting a bus home from work at an unusual time. Buses scheduled from Buffalo to Tonawanda are very infrequent. I asked the bus driver if he was going to Tonawanda. He jumped to the conclusion that I could not read the markings on the bus because I was illiterate. I got a lecture on the importance of an education and the advice that I should "Get off drugs and do something useful with my life."

I guess I didn't look as if I had an associate's degree in restaurant and hotel management and of course I wasn't wearing a sign that said "legally blind." So I lectured him right back about jumping to conclusions and being polite to passengers. He was so arrogant that he continued his lecture. After a long discussion with his supervisor once I got home, I felt better. I have not seen that driver on a bus since.

I have had other experiences with people who didn't understand visual impairment as opposed to total blindness. Many potential employers have told me that I would not be hired because I did not have reliable transportation. None gave me the opportunity to demonstrate that I could report to work regularly and on time. At my current job I am rarely absent or tardy.

A few years ago I applied for a job as manager of a franchised fast-food restaurant. The interview went well, and I worked a few days. But I was not permanently hired because of my inability to drive. "What if you run out of something?" they wanted to know.

"I'd improvise," I told them. "Besides, a good manager would not be likely to run out."

Restaurant menus and menu boards are a problem for me. I stare and look like I should be able to read them. When I was growing up, Mom or Dad would read the list of ice-cream flavors to me since the print was invariably too small. Over time I've memorized, to some degree, the menu boards in fast-food restaurants. All goes well unless I forget and order a Whopper at McDonalds.

Speaking of large print, the legal minimum size is currently fourteen point. It's easier to read but far from ideal. Not only are high partials inconvenienced, but many sighted older people with failing eyesight would appreciate larger printed menus, church missals, ATM instructions, and the like, as well. Eighteen-point print would be a helpful improvement for many folks. This matter is something I would like to see the Federation address in future.

Looking normally-sighted is particularly frustrating to Angie and me when a neighbor or passer-by accuses us of being stuck up. Even if we are looking right at people, we don't respond to a wave because we don't see it. After some explanation we assure them we would more readily acknowledge audible greetings.

Some ask, "Well, why don't you use a cane to signal your blindness?" I admit that sometimes a cane would explain my handicap and avoid some confusion. Being more aware of my condition would probably make people more accommodating. All of us must adapt to our circumstances. I know I can live with the inconveniences of my blindness. And my prognosis does not predict a substantial loss of vision. Therefore I choose not to use a cane.

I am dedicated to the Federation and its purposes. It is important to educate the public about the importance of security, opportunity, and equality for the blind. We can eliminate misconceptions about the visually handicapped if we can establish that the blind are much the same as anyone else. We all wake up needing our first cup of coffee to get going, sometimes feeling like not going to work, mostly not liking the microwaved sandwiches in the vending machines (no offense to my vendor brethren), and being glad when the workday is over. We all have the same joys, sorrows, expectations, and responsibilities.

Everyone deserves the same opportunities and privileges in life. We are entitled to freedom of choice about where we live, worship, study, travel, and the like. We deserve equal treatment at work, at school, in living generally. We must unite to obtain and maintain these rights for all who are visually impaired. Our self-confidence, self-respect, self-reliance depend on it.

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